Of course, we didn’t make this up. For years we’ve looked at pitch decks from the most successful companies and every single one of them had one thing in common: they told a story.
This structure helps tell a story. In the end, a pitch deck is a story about what your company has achieved and wants to continue to achieve, but when your day-to-day is metrics, marketing, sales, or building products- it’s not easy to distill everything you have in your head.
In this article, I’m going to go one by one through the slides and give you a few pointers on how to complete each slide. The template, of course, is available on Slidebean if you need it.
What makes a good pitch deck?
Before we dive into each slide, we need to zoom out a bit. These are the questions the pitch deck needs to answer:
What opportunity have you discovered in the market?
What have you built to tackle it? How does it work, and who is it for?
How much are you growing, and will you continue to grow?
And why are YOU and your team THE team to change that status quo?
That’s it. As you are writing the deck, make sure to keep that list of questions as a reference, and test every slide you write against that question.
Now, most decks are consumed over email. Decks for demo days or for meetings with investors can be different because you will have the founder standing in front of the slides, providing context and detail, and answering questions but those are the minority. To get a meeting with an investor, most investors will ask you for a deck over email that they can consume on their own.
I call that an ‘email deck’ and it needs to do the job of answering those 4 questions in about 4 minutes. Forget about the number of slides - that’s pretty irrelevant - it’s not the number of slides; it’s time. If your deck is too long, or your slides are too crowded, people will skim through instead of reading. If your slide has 3 sentences, then there is really no way to skip through that.
The four sections of a pitch deck
Ok, let’s tie those questions to slides, or rather sections, from the deck.
The Status Quo
The Status Quo covers what is happening in the market, and what you envision as a solution. It answers that first question: What opportunity have you discovered in the market?
The Product Section
The Product section answers the question of What have you built to tackle it? How does it work, and who is it for? You can start to figure out that the slides that would go in this section all relate to the product: screenshots, target customers, milestones, roadmap, business model- for example.
The Market Section
Next up is the Market section - which answers the question of How much are you growing, and will you continue to grow? Remember, most companies raise capital when they have traction: not before. The Market section includes slides such as the Go-To-Market strategy (how you’ll get customers) and the Market size (how big does the business get).
The Why Us Section
Finally, we have the Why Us section - which covers why YOU and your team are the team to change that status quo. This section gets into the competition (and why they suck) as well as the team.
With these sections you should have answered every question we set out to answer.
We can wrap this with an Intro and an Ask: if you’ve done your convincing well, you can now ask for funding.
How do you structure a pitch deck?
Now, a common question we get is: can this order change?
I’m all for that “rules were made to the broken” statement, but if you change this order, make sure it doesn’t break that story. If you sneak the team on the second slide, you are breaking the answer to that last question into two parts which might be harder to get. Or if you first tell us about the product, without touching on the status quo then suddenly the product is not justified; we don’t know if the need is there.
Another important note before we jump into each one of the slides is that you don’t need every single one. If you add every single one of the slides in this guide, I guarantee you will have a deck that can’t be consumed in 4 minutes. You have to pick the slides that do the best job answering your questions, but again, you don’t need all of them.
OK - let’s go slide by slide.
The intro usually means just the cover. There’s not much to add here other than the tagline, which is a 5-7 word description of what you do. Finding a tagline for your business is NOT easy. It took us months to get to ours. Also, that tagline is not necessarily your marketing slogan, it’s just a good description of what you do. In plain English - no marketing jargon.
If the company has relevant traction, it’s sometimes useful to brag about that early on, to make it a hook. This must be good and exciting traction, though: think 20% MoM growth in revenue or in Monthly Active users, not vanity metrics like downloads. If you don’t have any of those, keep calm and carry on.
Status Quo Section
Problem (or Busienss Opportunity) and solution
For the Status Quo section we are answering what opportunity have you discovered in the market? Usually, this is answered via a slide combo: the Problem and the Solution. You should always think of those slides as interconnected. Airbnb’s deck from 2009 (the one they used for their YCombinator demo day) is a perfect example. See how the Problem statement’s problems get matched to a solution on the next slide. These statements need to be clear, objective or based on real-world data.
For example, on Uber’s deck, we had two problem slides, which is totally fair- but not how all the statements are undebatable. Medallions are expensive, hailing is inefficient, and there is no accountability. All true statements. They could have gone with ‘the taxi experience is terrible,’ and few people would have argued with that, but it’s always better to use facts rather than opinions. You can almost connect each one of these statements to Uber’s features.
So, on the Problem slide, we are looking for short, to-the-point statements. Facts over opinions. On the Solution slide, we want to provide an answer to those statements.
Back to Airbnb, notice how this answer doesn’t come in the form of features- since we are not yet getting into the product. It’s more of a 30,000-foot view of what your product does.
Now, most companies start there: the founders identify an inefficient process, an underserved market, or a missing component in an industry and build a solution around it. Some startups don’t solve problems, though. Few exceptions like games are not solving the problem of ‘lack of games in a genre’ but rather taking on a business opportunity.
I worked on this deck the other day for an EV Charging station company. There are plenty of large companies that supply EV chargers, but the industry is expected to grow ten-fold over the next 7 years so that’s an obvious business opportunity.
This Status Quo section is key: if the investor reading the deck doesn’t buy into the problem, then they might just stop looking at the deck here. This very much connects to doing your research about the investor: you want to be sending this to someone who has an interest in the industry you are playing in.
Lastly, these 3 or 4 statements are key to proving your Industry expertise. Normally, these problems aren’t too obvious so by coming up with solid questions about that status quo, you are showing your own expertise in the market you intend to target (which you absolutely should have). In the consulting projects we take, these are probably the slides that take the most time to figure out, even for our team. So if you’re struggling, you know where to find us.
This section is the most flexible, remember we are answering what have you built to tackle the opportunity? How does it work, and who is it for?
It’s easy for us founders to talk about our products, so the challenge for these slides is mostly around compressing the info to a reasonable amount of slides and time. A slide with a product screenshot and a small caption takes 5 seconds to consume. We’d rather see 3 slides like that than try to compress everything into a single one.
Here are some of the slides you could add to this section.
Screenshots/Demo/How does it work
You can have a slide with some product screenshots or a demo video. Not everybody wants to commit 2-3 minutes to watching a video (remember, their time budget for the whole deck is about 4 minutes) so I always recommend screenshots. Another way to approach this is with a Step by Step diagram showing a simplified story of how the platform works.
A Features slide lets you list some other core benefits of the product. I always recommend talking about the benefit to the user rather than the feature itself. For example: for our pitch deck builder, we have always used ‘Edit your pitch deck on the go’ rather than ‘responsive editor.’ Make sure that you show (don’t tell), if possible. ‘Easy to use’ is subjective, while a screenshot of a clean interface actually proves that you made it happen.
If your product has a unique piece of technology, you can use this slide to show a diagram of the infrastructure.
The Market Validation slide is important if your product has a premise that people can’t easily get behind.
Back to Airbnb, this idea of people hosting strangers on their homes wasn’t obvious back in 2009 so they used Craigslist and Couchsurfing as references to prove that people were in fact willing to do it. Strong Market Validation slides use revenue-generating examples. I see a lot of founders mentioning that they’ve interviewed 20 people in the industry which is something you should have done anyway before even coming up with the problem statement.
I do consider the Audience slide a necessary one. In this slide, you want to identify a persona that buys your product.
Having a well-defined target user goes a long way! It shows that you know who the product is for, it shows that you’ve researched them, it shows that you have narrowed down your focus which means that your features, and your growth efforts, will target a thought-out audience, rather than spreading yourself too thin. Think of genres, age brackets, location and income brackets: no startup can target all audiences at the same time.
Another way to approach this slide, especially useful for B2B companies, is to show a case study. Ideally, this should be an instance where your product was adopted by another company, so you can mention who used it, how useful was it, and how it affected their job.
This once again shows focus. The business in the case study should reveal to the reader the industry and the size of the companies that you target. It should also let them know who the key person is in that company (which is the buyer you would have to target in the future).
If you have a real case study, absolutely go with that. If not, a sample scenario also works.
The business model is also key. We are going to need those details for the Market Size estimation. This is a pretty easy slide that people like to overcomplicate. All we want to learn is how you make money: is it a subscription? Is it a per-use platform? What’s the average deal size? If it’s a marketplace or an eccomerce platform, what are your margins? Don’t spend any time sharing projections- just tell us how you charge customers.
To wrap up this section, you could add a Roadmap slide that tells is about key product milestones, as well as future plans. Remember, we are talking about the product here, not so much about revenue. Investors also don’t care too much about milestones like incorporation or team recruitment: it’s about the product itself.
As for the future, your focus should be on what happens over the next 12 months (which is the time that your round of capital will likely fund). If you have a long-term product vision, you can even branch that into a new slide so that it doesn’t feel like a distraction from the immediate future.
Moving onto the market section, remember what we are trying to answer is How much are you growing, and will you continue to grow?
Of course, this starts with a Traction slide. If you have no traction you should re-consider who you are pitching with this deck. Companies in an idea stage can raise money from Friends and Family, but it’s unlikely that they’ll raise from strangers. A good traction slide should show growth on core KPIs like revenue, or monthly active users. Avoid vanity metrics like downloads, or sign ups since they don’t represent true adoption of your product.
Lastly, remember that single datapoints are just dots, but you can turn that into a story by sharing a chart with historicals. Making $10K last month is cool, but we want to know if that is growing or shrinking, if it’s a trend or an anomaly, and the easiest and quickest way to understand that is with a chart.
The Go-to-Market slide is another one where we see a lot of founders struggle.
Most of the bad slides I see are just a list of 10 marketing channels, which shows that the team hasn’t really thought any of them through. Again, lack of focus. A great Go-To-Market slide should focus on one or two strategies and dive deep into them. If these are strategies that you are already using, you can even get into some of the Unit Economics and costs. If they are new, then detail out a plan, timeline, budget and expectations. Ideally, these should be campaigns, or channels, that you have previous experience with (even working with other companies) and can attest to its effectiveness.
Go-To-Market is important not only because a good portion of raised capital usually gets invested in growth, but because you need to prove that you are reaching your next fundable milestone.
For software companies, a Pre-Seed round is usually a pre-product, idea stage round; but whatever you raise needs to be enough to get to the next fundable milestone: Seed.
A seed round, again for software companies, is usually raised with a live product and some solid MoM growth: 20% or more. Once again, your Go-To-Market needs to show that you can reach the next milestone, series A.
For SaaS companies specifically, series A rounds happen at $1.5-$2M of ARR at least. Hardware companies, blockchain companies and biotech operate very differently around these milestones but again, you need to show that you’ve budgeted what you need to reach the next one.
This is another slide where founders struggle. It should answer the question of ‘How much revenue can your business generate, annually?” It’s not about the size of the industry, or the market in general, but about your specific business.
The math is extremely simple, and at the same time really hard to get right. It’s just “potential customers x annual revenue per customer.” Done.
Finding your annual revenue per customer depends on the business model slide, which we touched on earlier. The hard part here is confirming that your business model is indeed compatible with customers, i.e. accepted by your market.
Finding the number of customers is the hard part, because you have to really narrow that down to the people or the companies that will buy from you. Steve Barsh, one of our investors, made a fantastic video of good practices for TAM which you can find here.
We’re at the last bit of the deck now. The question to answer here is why YOU and your team are THE team to change that status quo?
Competitors (and Competitive Advantage)
You can talk about competitors in a number of different ways but the end goal is always to show what you understand about the market that your competitors don’t. It’s less about comparing features, again, it’s about WHY YOU.
You use that famous 2 axis chart that Steve Jobs used as long as you use it right. Those charts work as long as you have 2 clear variables, one for the horizontal axis, and one for the vertical axis. It also works as long as your product is a clear outlier. If you have other products on that top right section, then it’s not the best of arguments.
Another approach to use is to just list features, pricing, and compare them. That works as long as it focuses on market understanding: it’s not just showing that you have more features, but confirming that your competitors can’t easily copy them, or wouldn’t want to.
The last approach I’ll mention is just listing 3 companies and writing a few lines about each one of them. You can mention their size, location and funding as a reference and then simply state what they don’t know about the market, that you do.
As for the team what we want to see here is not founders, not advisors, not the entire team, but KEY PEOPLE. The people on this slide should have the skills to bring the company to that next fundable milestone.
If you are building an app, then the technical lead (likely your CTO) should be here. If you are aiming for 20% MoM growth, then your head of marketing or your head of sales should be here, regardless of their founder status.
If you don’t have that person on the team, you probably need them before you can actually close a round: recruiting for early stage is really hard and money isn’t the only answer: it’s network, it’s getting people to believe in this idea, enough to take a risk and work with you. We have a whole video on finding co-founders which you can find here.
The bios for those people should focus on that industry expertise, rather than unrelated achievements. After looking at 1,000s of decks, Ivy League schools stopped surprising me: they’re not irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong but experience is what really makes the team interesting.
Why Now/Secret Sauce
You can close this section with a Why Now slide which is optional but useful if there’s a time constraint that you can use to your advantage.
If, for example, there are few competitors at the moment (either because people haven’t figured the business opportunity out, or because there is some legal or logistic barrier for others to enter the market). You can also frame this slide as the “Secret Sauce” where you highlight some unique technology, strong network connections, or a very unique understanding that nobody else has and that ‘protects you’ against competitors.
And that concludes the story side of the deck.
If you did your job well, investors should be convinced by now.
The last couple slides, which would represent “the ask”, focus on your financial estimations, the amount of money you are raising, the terms, and the use of funds.
By no means should they be underestimated, mind you. We have plenty of videos covering how to solve your financial models, including this one from last week which covers financial modeling from the abstract to the spreadsheet.
Remember, the template we’ve been referring to is available right here on Slidebean. And if you need our help to write or design the deck, you should chat with our sales team.
CEO at Slidebean/FounderHub. TEDx Speaker. 500 Startups Alum. 40-under-40.